Perspectives of Faith in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:19-34)Related Media
Where Are Your Treasures?
In our materialistic society, perhaps no passage is more practical than Matthew 6:19-34 which deals with our pursuit of earthly treasures. Why is this so? Because our treasures are so determinative regarding our pursuits and what we do with our lives. However, to fully come to grips with the message of this wonderful passage, we need to integrate Matthew 6:19-34 within the immediate context of Matthew or we will miss a very important part of the challenge of these verses.
In chapters 5-7, Matthew gives us what is popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. This discourse contains the principles of the King which should characterize His subjects and followers. In His sermon, the Lord taught several things: (1) the true spiritual nature and intent of the Law, to show man his sin that he might rest in God’s provision of righteousness, (2) the error of the teaching of the religious leaders of Israel and their gross externalism, and (3) the kind of character the subjects of the kingdom must possess, not as a means of salvation or entrance into the kingdom, but as an evidence of faith and the reality of God in one’s life or of fruit that is in keeping with repentance (3:8). But the King was going to be rejected, and so, anticipating this and the postponement of the kingdom that He was offering, this discourse also added a fourth important ingredient. Finally, (4) it demonstrated the purpose of the subjects of His kingdom (His disciples) during the interim stage until the establishment of the kingdom.
In 5:3-16 we are given a Picture or Description of the character of the subjects and followers of the King. They are described first from the standpoint of their character and rewards (5:3-12). This is the Beatitude section.
This is followed in 5:13-16 by a Portrayal and Declaration of the calling of His subjects. In these verses our Lord challenged His disciples with a startling fact of who they were. He said, “you, you are the salt of the earth.” Then, in the very next verse he followed with, “you, you are the light of the world.”
They were His representatives and it was their purpose to function as salt and light. They were to have a dynamic impact on society. They were here to serve the King and not themselves. The subjects were to bring forth fruit to God. If they failed to do this, then they were useless to God as far as God’s purposes are concerned.
So we are faced with an important question: What then is needed if the servants of the King, His subjects, are to fulfill their calling? They must bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance and a deep faith in God. There must be a dramatic change in the direction of their lives, but for that to happen, they must understand and operate by the precepts and perspectives of the righteousness of faith and the principles of the King. Their righteousness must exceed that of the religious Pharisees; it must be different in source and in nature or character.
Thus, in 5:17-7:12, we are given The Principles or Decrees of the King. This falls into three categories or aspects as follows:
(1) Principles Concerning the Nature of Righteousness Needed (5:17-48). It was to be the product of the inner man and genuine fellowship with dependence on God.
(2) Principles Concerning the Practice of Righteousness (6:1-18). It was to be done as unto the Lord and not before men or for their praise.
(3) Principles Concerning the Perspective of Righteousness (6:19-7:12). This deals with one’s perspective regarding true values as so evidenced in our pursuit of wealth and possessions.
Without this understanding and focus we will be no different than the Pharisees who were externalists, selfish, stingy, and blind leaders of the blind. They brought no one closer to God. They were failures in their purpose as the leaders of Israel. Also, very important in their perspective of life, just as in our society today, was material wealth or treasures on earth. “In his public ministry, Jesus repeatedly rebuked them for the prominence they gave to material wealth.”1 Not only were the Pharisees characterized by hypocrisy, but also by avarice or greed. Why were they like this? Perhaps because they had perverted the promises of God in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, particularly Deuteronomy, Israel was promised blessing for obedience and discipline for disobedience. The blessing was largely material (see Deut. 28:3-6). To the Pharisees, material blessing became a sign of righteousness and God’s blessing. Pentecost writes:
On the basis of this principle the Pharisees built a system in which they sought to enrich themselves by doing things the Law demanded. The Pharisee, as our Lord said in Matthew 6, gave to the poor, prayed incessantly, and fasted twice a week. But he did it to obtain material prosperity from God. He wanted to bind God to pour out blessing on him because of his righteousness. The Pharisees misapplied a scripture verse to convey their concept toward material possession: “Whom the Lord loveth, He maketh rich.” The acquisition of material wealth became the greatest goal in life for the Pharisees. It was a sure sign their righteousness satisfied God and that God had rewarded them by pouring material blessing upon them.
Solomon sought to deter the nation in their pursuit of this philosophy in Proverbs 23:4: “Labor not to be rich,” that is, do not make it the goal of your life to obtain riches. Then Solomon explained why he had given this warning, “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent” (28:20). Solomon recognized that a man whose goal is to accumulate material wealth will ultimately stoop to any means to attain that goal. He will defile himself in the sight of God to reach his own ends.2
Unfortunately, we find the same perspective today in the church. Many equate material wealth or physical blessing of any kind with the blessing of God for their righteous behavior, but if they face trials or have the absence of health and financial prosperity, it is a sign that God is angry with them for some reason. The three friends of Job had the same mentality, but they were wrong and so is this mentality. If such were the case, then God was angry with the Apostle Paul who faced all kinds of suffering and lack.
But Matthew 6:19-34 is important to us for an additional reason. We live in a somewhat different kind of materialistic society. What exactly is the materialism of our day? The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia defines materialism for us.
Materialism (me-tr--e-lzem), in philosophy, a widely held system of thought that explains the nature of the world as entirely dependent on matter, the final reality … 3
Materialism is not just a preoccupation on the material world of money and possession, but is a philosophy which operates as though God didn’t exist. And when we live life materialistically, though we may believe in God and claim a relationship to Him, we are in essence living as though He didn’t exist, without faith in His loving care. This is why the Lord addressed the disciples as “O men of little faith.”
Application: So it can be with us. Unless we grasp the significance of these verses and operate by their truth, we too will fail to fulfill our purpose as the people of God. We are here as the representatives of the Lord, ambassadors of Christ. We are here to promote the proclamation of the Word throughout the whole world starting in our Jerusalem and extending outward to the uttermost part of the earth.
But highly critical in all of this is a system of values as evidenced in our attitudes, perspective, and pursuit of wealth and possessions, and the stewardship of all God has given us. But the principles here apply equally to anything that captures our hearts and drives our lives like position, praise, power, or any of the things that men lust after to find significance, security, satisfaction, and happiness by their own human plans and wisdom.
The Commands Regarding Treasures (6:19-20)
The Negative: What we are not to do (vs. 19a)
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth”
The Greek uses a construction (present imperative plus the negative particle me) which can command either, (a) the cessation of action in progress, “Stop it,” or (b) it is a general precept that we are to abide by continuously. It could mean either “Never let this be your focus,” or “Stop letting it be your focus.” It points to the fact that those the Lord was speaking to either had the wrong view of earthly wealth or material possessions which was controlling their lives and their choices, or were in danger of it because of the influence of the Pharisees for whom it was a clear problem.
The verb “lay up” is thesaurizo and “treasures” is thesauros, “treasure, wealth, valuable possession, whether physical, spiritual or intellectual.” It refers to a reservoir of wealth. Our word thesaurus, which mean a treasury of words, comes from this word. The Greek verb means, “to treasure up, store, hoard, stock pile.” It looks at wealth that is ineffectively used or misused (1 Cor. 7:30-31).
We might paraphrase, “never be or stop treasuring up futile treasures.”
“For yourselves” is an important phrase. It means for your personal advantage, for selfish ends and futile reasons. Saving with a view to rainy days and retirement is not the issue here.
The phrase “upon earth” is also significant. It marks a contrast with the positive command, “in heaven.” It reminds us, as do the illustrations that follow (moth, rust, and thieves), that this earth is passing away because it is under a curse. When man accumulates what is on earth, he accumulates that which is passing away. Not only can we lose it now, we cannot take it with us after death. Someone quipped, “Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul?” The ancient pharaohs of Egypt thought they could, but their pyramids stand as a commentary against the foolishness of their hope.
So, the Lord uses three figures to remind us of the transient nature and insecurity of this life and everything in it by the graphic images of the moth and rust which destroy, and thieves who break in and steal.
The Reason: The Futility and Temporality of Earthly Treasures (vs. 19b)
“Where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal”
Moths destroy clothing: In ancient times even as today, a person’s clothing was used to make a statement about one’s wealth. Most of the clothing was made of wool and the moth loves wool and could ruin an expensive garment overnight.
The word “rust” is literally “that which consumes, an eating away,” and is translated “food, meat” everywhere but here. It brings to mind those things in this life which disfigure, destroy, and ruin the things we value like rust, rats, mice, roaches, termites, and worms.
The word “destroy” highlights the idea because it means “to disfigure, corrupt, or render invisible” whether by time or by weather or by other forces.
Change and decay are all around us and, if we weren’t so blind, they would be a constant reminder and check on the value system that drives our lives.
Thieves of course refers to the age-old problem of those who, rather than working for their living, intrude and force their way into homes and take the property and valuables of others. Both verbs here are customary presents and stress these factors as constants in life. They remind us that (1) in light of the brevity of life and (2) the constant insecurity of wealth, to lay up treasures on earth is foolish; it shows a completely wrong orientation and a lack of faith in God.
An important phrase is in the words “for yourselves.” When we accumulate possessions simply for our own sakes—whether (1) to hoard because of insecurity or (2) to spend selfishly and extravagantly seeking happiness and security in the details of life rather in the Lord, we make those possessions our idols because we are seeking to live independently of the Lord. We attribute to them and to ourselves godlike abilities.
The Positive Command: What We Should Be Doing (vs. 20a)
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven”
The verb here is in the present continuous tense. It refers to that which is to be the constant pattern and objective of one’s life.
Three key questions should occupy our minds here:
(1) How do we lay up treasures in heaven?
(2) What are the treasures? Note that they are plural.
(3) Why should I lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth? There are other reasons beyond the fact this world is passing away and my time here is also very temporal.
What does it mean to lay up treasures in heaven and how is it done?
First, to lay up treasures in heaven means that we recognize the brevity of life and that we are here as sojourners, as temporary residents here on special assignment for the Lord (cf. Ps. 39:4-6; 90:12). It means faith in the realities and promises of heaven, it means to have faith in heaven and to live like it .
Second, to lay up treasures means to use your God given potential as a good steward of the manifold grace of God. To store treasures in heaven requires earthly time and commitment of our lives to new values and priorities. God has entrusted each of us with a five-fold stewardship, five key assets, for which we are responsible before God during our stay here on earth. These five are:
- TIME (it takes earthly time to store up heavenly treasure),
- TALENTS (gifts and abilities),
- TREASURES (earthly wealth, money, things, etc.),
- TEMPLE (the believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit), and
- TRUTH (the gospel).
Our stewardship consists in how well we invest those assets for the Lord and heavenly treasure. But how do we use this wonderful potential?
Third, to lay up treasures, as Paul teaches us, is in essence to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” We lay up treasures when we pursue Christlikeness, when we abide in Him as the source of life and experience the fruit of His life in ours. The results are eternal rewards or heavenly treasures.
But just how does godliness yield heavenly treasure? Why should we lay up heavenly treasures and what do they consist of?
The Reason: the Benefits or Blessings (vs. 20b)
“Where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal”
It is tremendously important that we see that heavenly treasure or wealth first consists of godliness itself which brings great blessing into the life. In 1 Timothy 6:6-7, Paul shows us what our Lord had in mind. He says, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.”
We might paraphrase verse 6, “godliness with contentment is man’s greatest gain,” or “godliness is man’s greatest wealth.” The concept is that true godliness gives contentment. It takes away the pain and all sorts of evil that come with a life of greed.
Proverbs 15:16 reads, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it.” Proverbs 16:8 has, “Better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice.”
Godliness is beneficial or profitable because it yields double dividends, dividends for this present life and the life to come (1 Tim. 4:7b-8). As stressed above, heavenly treasure in indestructible, it is completely safe from the destructive forces on the earth, but it also has great blessing now.
The dividends of godliness for this present life consist of that which the world and its way of life and its rewards simply cannot give. Godliness gives peace with God, inner peace, Christlike joy and strength regardless of circumstances, and inner happiness with meaning and purpose and hope (Phil. 4:10-13).
The future dividends of godliness or heavenly treasures include glory to God, life in the presence of God’s glory, and eternal rewards—crowns and special places of ministry throughout all eternity. These are rewards that are described as imperishable—untouched by death or decay, undefiled—unstained by evil, and unfading—unimpaired by time (1 Pet. 1:4).
The key question is this: What do I really value? What kind of value system do I have? Just what are my treasures?
Well, why are values so important? Because they determine what we store, where we store, and how we store.
Application: Why do some hearts love or value this world’s goods and treasures and make them their god while other hearts love the things of heaven? The answer is found in part, at least, in the explanations our Lord gives in verses 21-24 because this demonstrates the character of one’s devotion. Other reasons will be seen in the application the Lord makes in vss. 24-34.
But for now, let’s ask an important and heart searching question:
What does it mean to lay up treasures in heaven?
It means to keep a very light grip when it comes to the material things of life because our hope is truly anchored in eternal realities (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-18; 1 Pet. 1:17-21; 2:11).
It means learning contentment, independence of circumstances and condition so these things cannot dictate what we do with our lives (Phil. 4:10-13).
It means measuring life and making crucial choices by eternal values, by heavenly treasure (Matt. 6:21-23).
It means becoming good stewards of the assets God has given us (2 Cor. 4:1-2).
It means total commitment, biblical giving, loving service, Christlike living.
Why We Must Pursue Heavenly Treasures (6:21)
“For where your treasure is, there will you heart be also.”
In this verse, “treasure,” thesauros, stands for value or for what means the most to us. What is of the greatest value to us?
“Heart” refers to the center of the personality embracing the mind, emotions, and will, or it may simply refer to the whole inner man as the seat of affections, emotions, desires, and appetites.
In this context it has the meaning of devotion and looks at our inner longings. It refers to that which one commits his physical and spiritual energies to because that’s where his heart is. It stands close in concept to ambition.
Question: So, where are our hearts?
Answer: Christ tells us, they are wherever our values are. Our value system determines what we do with our lives: our time, our energy, our money, our pursuits, and our concerns.
Question: Why do some hearts love or value this world’s goods and treasures and make them their god while other hearts love and pursue the things of heaven? In other words, what determines our values system?
Answer: The answer is found in part, at least, in the two illustrations which determine the character of devotion seen in verses 22-24, the lamp and one’s master. Other reasons will be given later in the application the Lord makes in vss. 25-34.
The Illustrations of the Character of Devotion (Matt. 6:22-24)
Devotion has its source in vision, in perspective (6:22-23)
“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad; your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
The Analogy: As the human eye gives light to our bodies so we can make careful choices in where and how we walk, so our spiritual vision affects how we walk and what we do with our lives.
Verse 22. “If therefore your eye is clear, …” “Clear” is the Greek word haplous which means “simple, single,” and then from that, “sound, healthy, clear” when used of the eye. But the basic idea is that of single clear vision versus double vision which, of course, is blurred.
Verse 23. “But if your eye is bad, …” “Bad” is poneros which means: (a) in the physical sense, “in poor condition, sick,” and (b) in the ethical sense, “worthless, evil, bad, base.”
Clear vision, or spiritual understanding as given by the Word and the Holy Spirit, gives the ability to recognize the true values of life so we can avoid the evil perspectives and distortions of the world. If what Oscar Wilde said in his day was true, it is even more so today. He said, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”4
It is these true values that give one the capacity to make value choices, those based on a single vision of eternal or heavenly treasure.
If our vision is clear which means single minded and fixed on eternal or heavenly treasure, then the whole of our lives will be full of light, insight, and we will have the ability, the wisdom, the desire, and the will to make wise choices in life.
But if our vision is evil which means we either have false vision, or double vision, the vision of heaven and the world mixed together, then our lives will be flooded with darkness. We will either be going in a completely wrong direction or we will be perpetually trying to go in two directions. Either way, we will be unable to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives because these conflicting images are imposed over one another.
“How great is the darkness” means how great are the consequences of false or double vision. It means a life wasted in terms of eternal rewards.
Basic Principle: Outlook always determines outcome.
Some Applications: Vision, perspective determines values, values determine priorities, priorities determine pursuit, and pursuit determines character.
The Lord is teaching us that a man’s spiritual insight and his focus will determine his goals; that his goals will determine the course of his life. The end to which men press will always determine the character of their lives.
If, in covetousness and greed, we pursue what is earthly, corrupt, and transitory, our conduct in life will never manifest a righteousness pleasing to God (cf. Eph. 4:17-20; 1 Tim. 6:6-18).
Through a biblical vision or the perspective of faith we need personal renewal and reevaluation concerning who we are and why we are here. This will allow us to develop a new horizon with new goals and purposes. Only then will we be able to accomplish God’s purposes and goals for life as His representatives, as salt and light.
Devotion cannot be divided (6:24)
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Note that the two masters mentioned in the first clause are defined in the last clause as God and mammon or material wealth. This tells us that either God is the master of our lives or material wealth is. There is no in between position. We simply cannot ride the fence. If we try we will be like a man with double vision, one eye for heaven and the other for earth, and we will be unable to make the right choices, those based on true values.
What determines who is in charge? First, our vision, second, our values, and third, the choices we make, or what we do with the assets God has given us.
Are we laying up treasures in heaven? Do we have a single and clear eye for the eternal verities of the Word?
A look at Matthew 13:45-46 and the pearl of great price has an important message for us:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
The exact meaning of this parable is disputed. For instance, Ryrie writes:
The parables of the treasure and pearl indicate the incomparable value of the kingdom, which will cause a man to do everything possible to possess it. Another possible interpretation equates the man with Christ (as in v. 37) who sacrifices His all to purchase His people.5
While I believe the pearl is the church and the man is Christ who gives all for the pearl, I also believe it illustrates how value through perspective or outlook determines output or what a person does with his or her life.
In John White’s book, The Cost of Commitment, he tells a story of a communist that illustrates how the right perspective or values truly can determine our output. White wrote: “Let me quote to you a letter written by an American communist in Mexico City, a letter breaking his engagement with his fiancee.”
We communists suffer many casualties. We are those whom they shoot, hang, lynch, tar and feather, imprison, slander, fire from our jobs and whose lives people make miserable in every way possible. Some of us are killed and imprisoned. We live in poverty. From what we earn we turn over to the Party every cent which we do not absolutely need to live.
We communists have neither time nor money to go to movies very often, nor for concerts nor for beautiful homes and new cars. They call us fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one supreme factor—the struggle for world communism. We communists have a philosophy of life that money could not buy.
We have a cause to fight for, a specific goal in life. We lose our insignificant identities in the great river of humanity; and if our personal lives seem hard, or if our egos seem bruised through subordination to the Party, we are amply rewarded—in the thought that all of us, even though it be in a very small way, are contributing something new and better for humanity.
There is one thing about which I am completely in earnest—the communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife, my mistress, my meat and drink. I work at it by day and dream of it by night. Its control over me grows greater with the passage of time. Therefore I cannot have a friend, a lover or even a conversation without relating them to this power that animates and controls my life. I measure people, books, ideas and deeds according to the way they affect the communist cause and by their attitude to it. I have already been in jail for my ideas, and if need be I am ready to face death.
White then responded to the letter and wrote:
If the letter fails to stir you, you may already have begun to die. Like a traveler lost in a blizzard, unaware your body freezes in a snow bank, you are drifting to sleep …
As you read the letter, you also feel he has been set free. Having broken from the possessions that clutter our own lives, he is consumed by a passion that despises both prudence and pleasure …6
While we should feel pain and sorrow for those who are blinded by the Satanic philosophy of Communism, we cannot help but feel admiration for such commitment which so beautifully illustrates how our values can truly revolutionize our purposes and the way we live.
This is the way Christianity should impact our lives as Christians, the same way it impacted the life of the Apostle Paul, whose life, from the stand point of his values and commitment, was very much like this communist. Listen to what the Apostle wrote:
2 Corinthians 4:6-18 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death works in us, but life in you. 13 But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore also we speak; 14 knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
See also 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 and 2 Corinthians 11:22-33.
It was the eternal weight of glory, heavenly treasure, a value far beyond all comparison, and Paul’s focus on that value that set the Apostle free to be the man God had called him to be enduring whatever hardships life might bring.
Where is Your Trust?
Commands Against Worldly Anxiety
Jesus Christ made it clear that a mark of true spirituality was a right attitude toward wealth. The mark of godliness or the mark of a righteous man is his preoccupation with God and heavenly treasure rather than earthly treasure.
Scripture has a tremendous amount to say about money or material possessions. Sixteen of thirty-eight parables of Jesus deal with money. One out of every ten verses in the New Testament deal with that subject. Scripture has 500 verses on prayer, less that 500 verses on faith, but over 2000 verses on the subject of money. This is obviously important, but why? Because a person’s attitude or bearing toward money is so determinative on his relationship with God, on the fulfillment of his purpose in this life, and on the character of his life.
Matthew 6:19-34 forms a complete section dealing with the subject of materialism and its impact on our relationship with God. Verses 19-24 stressed the pursuit of heavenly treasure in single-hearted devotion to God.
Now with verses 25-34 the Lord makes application. The Father will take care of us. Our primary responsibility is to trust God and give Him implicit, complete, whole-hearted devotion that is free from anxiety about the details of life. Our Father in heaven, who loves us, will take care of us.
The heart of the message of the passage is “stop worrying” or “stop being anxious” over the details of life like food, drink, and clothing. This is stressed three times: cf. vss. 25, 31, and 34. These items are illustrations of the details of life that so entangle us. Please note that these are commands. It is not an option. This is just as binding on us as “you shall not murder” or “you shall not commit adultery.”
The first command of verse 25 is equivalent to “stop worrying.” The other two mean, “never be worrying.”
The Greek word for “anxious,” merimnao, means “to be troubled with cares, to be anxious, worried.” In its root idea, merimnao means “to be drawn in two different directions, to be distracted, divided.” A good illustration of this idea is found in the reception at Bethany where we find Mary sitting at the feet of Christ to hear the Word and Martha who was distracted with all her serving, was “worried (merimnao) and bothered (troubled) about so many things” (Luke 10:40-41).
When we are worried and troubled about the cares of this life, we become divided and distracted from devotion to God and from what should be our primary focus and pursuit.
The KJV’s “take no thought” (Matt. 6:25) is confusing and implies an unplanned disregard for future or even daily needs. Scripture teaches us we are to pray for daily needs, we are to work for our necessities, and we are even to plan for the future. The emphasis and problem here is anxious concern and preoccupation with material things because such will divide our allegiance and choke out the pursuit of God (vs. 33).
Five times the Lord employs provocative questions to show how wrong and unreasonable it is to worry about the details of life like “what you shall eat, or what you shall drink” (see the five question in vss. 25, 26, 27, 28, & 30).
This passage gives at least five reasons why it is wrong to be guilty of worldly anxiety or anxious concern over the cares of the world.
But why shouldn’t we be concerned with these issues? What’s wrong with it? The main body of the passage is devoted to setting forth five reasons why we must not be anxious.
Why it is Wrong to Worry
Matthew 6:25 For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?
(1) It is UNFAITHFUL because God is to be our master and because it distracts from the pursuit of heavenly treasures (6:25a).
“For this reason I say to you” takes us back to the preceding context. Since (1) heavenly values far exceed earthly concerns, (2) since you cannot serve two masters, God and materialism, and (3) because of the awesome consequences of an evil eye (cf. 6:23 with Prov. 28:22), this command against worldly cares is mandatory. Stop being overly anxious about worldly concerns, about the basic details of life because it has extremely destructive consequences.
Preoccupation with food, clothing, etc., will always divide our allegiance and distracts us from the pursuit of heavenly treasures. It causes us to ignore God and His Word and His purposes. It makes us unfaithful to God who is our master. Compare Mark 4:19, and 1 Timothy 6:9.
(2) It is UNREASONABLE because of the makeup of man (6:25b).
This question in verse 25, according to Greek grammar, demands the answer, “yes.” The question is directed against the spirit of the materialism in a world that lives as though the physical is all there is to life.
Jesus mentions three necessities (food, drink, and clothing) all of which are related to the body. Are we just a body or are we more than a body? Within the body is a spiritual being. The body dies, but the inner man, the soul and spirit goes on living. If saved, he lives with God, if unsaved he exists in hell and will be eternally separated from God.
There is a side to man that is much more important than the physical, yet taking care of the body has always been a common obsession with men. We pamper the body, decorate it, exercise it, protect it from disease and pain, slender it, build it and the whole nine yards, and when balanced properly, this is not wrong. But caring for the physical becomes wrong when it gets out of balance, when it becomes our purpose for living, when we become preoccupied with our bodies and the details of life so that we act as though life consisted only in food, drink, and clothing.
Listen to the confession of Erma Bombeck:
I did as I was told. I was fussy about my peanut butter, fought cavities, became depressed over yellow wax buildup. … I was responsible for my husband’s underarms being protected for twelve hours. I was responsible for making sure my children had a well-balanced breakfast. I alone was carrying the burden for my dog’s shiny coat. … We believed if we converted to all the products that marched before our eyes we could be the best, the sexiest, the freshest, the cleanest, the thinnest, the smartest and the first in our block to be regular. Purchasing for the entire family was the most important thing I had to do.7
In response to this confession of the humorous Erma Bombeck, Tom Sine writes:
In our upwardly mobile lifestyles, being good consumers is for many of us the most important thing we do. Shopping has become a major leisure-time activity for many. Increasingly, our sense of identity and self-worth is integrally connected to what we buy. We have come to really believe we are what we own—and that the more we own, the more we are. Our entire view of the better future is seen largely in materialistic terms of what we consume.
The folks on Madison Avenue have done a remarkable job of tantalizing us and persuading us to scale their illusory peaks and buy into their empty dreams. They have tried to convince us that an ever-increasing level of consumerism is synonymous with happiness. And they constantly seek to convince us we have new needs that we didn’t know we had and that can only be satisfied by the new products they offer. As a consequence, when they tell us to “move on up,” “grab the gusto,” and “have it our way,” most of us obediently begin to lockstep up their mountain together—non-Christian and Christian alike.8
When we pursue this course, we have not only lost sight of the eternal, but we have lost sight of the basic makeup of man as created in the image of God and we have bought into the idea of a secular humanist world that man is nothing more than the product of time plus chance, nothing more than a highly evolved animal who only goes around once and needs to get all the gusto he can.
By comparison, how much time do we spend on our spiritual food and drink and on our spiritual clothing? (cf. Isa. 55:1-3; Rom. 13:14; Rev. 3:17-18; Eph. 4:22f; 6:10f)
(3) It is UNNECESSARY because of the much more care of our Father (6:26-30).
The basic thrust of these verses is that based on three object lessons or illustrations taken from God’s creation, we have absolutely no reason to worry because God, through faith in Christ, is our personal and heavenly Father who, with a Father’s heart, cares intimately for each of us with an infinite love far beyond any human father (cf. 6:11).
Object Lesson # 1: The birds of the air and its object lesson about food (6:26)
Here the Lord says in effect, learn the lesson of God’s care for the birds. When God created, He assumed responsibility to provide for His creation. God has not abandoned His creatures. Well, if God has done that for even the birds, how much more will He not do for us whom He created in His image and who become His spiritual children by faith in Christ. Two things to keep in mind: (1) As human beings we have a special place in His plan above the animal kingdom. This is clearly evident in Genesis 1-2. And (2) as believers in Christ we stand in relation to Him as His children, sealed in His Beloved, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 8:31).
Object Lesson # 2: The longevity of life and question concerning man’s inability to add to his life’s span (6:27)
This question deals with the futility of worry. Can worry lengthen your life? No! In fact worry can shorten it.
Object Lesson # 3: The lilies of the field and the object lesson about clothing (6:28-30)
The first illustration dealt with the animal kingdom. This deals with the plant kingdom, and applies the same principle to demonstrate God’s loving concern for His people. God clothes the field with the beauty of flowers so that they surpass even Solomon in all his glory, and these flowers are here today and gone tomorrow. Now if God does that for His plant kingdom, how much more will He not do for His children who have eternal purposes in the kingdom of God.
But it’s imperative that we note the concluding words! When He says, “O men of little faith,” the Lord puts His finger right smack on the issue.
First, He is showing the main reason for worry is a lack of faith in both the worth and trustworthiness of God. It is really a matter of independent living, of seeking to handle life and find happiness by our own strategies of self-management.
Second, He is reminding us that worry over the cares of this life is not a trivial sin. When we worry we are acting as though our heavenly Father is untrustworthy in His word and promises, that we do not believe He is enough, and that He will really care for us. We are showing we really are not living by faith.
This is the real heart of the matter. Little Faith. We talk about loving God, how much He means to us, about heaven and God’s sovereignty, but then we live as though none of this really exists when the cares of the world or the details of life draw us away from the pursuit of God and heavenly treasures.
Verses 31-34 give us the Lord’s conclusion and the final application of these facts on our lives. Note the “then” in verse 31. This is oun, a particle of consequence, and means “therefore, wherefore, or then.” The ideas is simply, “In the light of God’s care and the issue of faith, the following is essential.”
(4) It is UNBECOMING because of our testimony as God’s children (6:31-33).
The Command Repeated (6:31)
For emphasis to drive the issue home, the command against anxiety is repeated, only now it is followed with a fact to consider, a promise to know and claim, another command, the ultimate issue, and another promise to believe and live by.
A Fact To Consider (6:32a)
The word “seek” is an intensive form, epizeteo, a double compound verb that means not merely “to search or seek,” but “to search after” stressing direction toward an object. It has the connotation of “run or strive after or toward some object.” The unbelieving world is constantly and striving after all these things.
The meaning of “seek” plus the present tense of habitual or continuous action brings out or portrays the rat race of the world in its pursuit of the details of life in its endless dither and struggle of daily living. But with that struggle is a depressing sense of going nowhere, like a dog chasing his tail, or a gerbil on its monotonous wheel.
This pursuit of the details of life characterizes the unbelieving world that eagerly seeks to accumulate, but it does so because the things it seeks like position, power, pleasure, possessions, financial security, etc., are the only security and source of happiness it has. The world is without hope because it knows not God. It has no God in whom it can trust.
Application: For the child of God to live like the world which has no faith or hope in a personal relationship with God through Christ is truly unbecoming to the child of God whose life should be anchored in three marvelous truths: (a) the finished work of Christ, rejoicing in the fact of our salvation from sin, (b) the eternal treasures and the heavenly hope kept by the power of God to be revealed at the return of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3f), and (c) the fact we stand under the omniscient and omnipotent care of a loving heavenly Father.
Anxious concern over the details of life, which distracts, divides ones attention, allegiance, and service to the Lord, hurts the testimony of the children of God as those who have infinitely more than the world has to offer. We have a heavenly Father who knows, cares, and has taken personal responsibility for His children.
Our heavenly Father knows our needs, whatever they may be and will supply (Phil. 4:19). Knowing this, we should relax and put first things first. So …
A Command To Obey (vs. 33a)
“But seek ye first …”
“But” is a conjunction of contrast. In contrast to a world without God and its mad search for happiness in the details of life, there must be a completely different priority for believers.
“Seek,” the Greek, zeteo, means “to attempt to do something, to endeavor, go about, to inquire after, or desire.” It implies diligence, effort, and focus, a preoccupation with the object sought, i.e., the things of God.
Note also that the verb is in the continuous present tense. This must become the goal and pattern of our lives. But by implication there is the warning in this of the ever present pull of the world to get us preoccupied with other things, to distract, divide, and draw us away from the Lord.
“Seek first” drives this home as a matter of the highest priority. Why? Because of what is at stake, eternal treasures and the experience of God’s righteousness versus the loss of those treasures and moral degeneracy. When the pursuit of earthly treasures becomes the priority, moral breakdown in society is never far behind.
What are we to seek? The divine priority consists of two parts: God’s kingdom and His righteousness and the two are always related as root is to fruit.
The word “kingdom” means rule, dominion. To seek God’s kingdom is:
To seek His sovereign rule, His will, and authority in one’s life.
It is to promote those things that will produce the same in those around us. It means to promote, support, and work for the edification and growth of believers and evangelism and outreach of the lost.
We also seek His kingdom when we yearn for His coming kingdom with the return of the King and live accordingly, with a view to heavenly treasures and the glory of God.
We are also to seek His righteousness. This in essence means Christlike character. But please note two things: (1) When God is in control of our lives we will experience His righteousness through the ministry of the Spirit. And (2) righteousness is to be a priority objective rather than the cares of a world which has its heart fixed on material possessions. WHY? Remember the principle? Outlook (our objectives) determine output. Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. If we replace God’s righteousness with desires for the physical blessings of the world like position, power, possessions, etc., we lose God’s control. We become the slaves of mammon. Mammon becomes our god and that always results, eventually, in unrighteousness—in fraud, in murder, in neglect of family, in a loss of concern for others at the expense of the almighty dollar.
A Promise To Claim (vs. 33b)
The command to “seek first” is followed with a promise, “and all these things shall be added to you.”
Note the contrast: In verse 32 we have, “for all these things the Gentiles seek,” now we have for those whose priority is God’s kingdom and righteousness, “all these things shall be added to you.”
There is a two-fold emphasis and promise:
- This is a promise that God will meet the needs of the believers if they will trust Him and put first things first. He has promised to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus and to do exceedingly above all that we could ask or think (Phil. 4:19; Eph. 3:20).
- There is in this the promise of the future blessings and glories of both the millennial and eternal reigns of the King. All the physical blessings of the millennium will be forthcoming. We may suffer in this life, experience hardships and pain for the king, but it will be only temporary. Ahead are the blessings of the future kingdom.
(5) It is UNWISE because of the nature of today and the nature of tomorrow (6:34).
Jesus tells us, “do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.” This is not a mandate against planning nor the careless philosophy of the hedonist who lives only for his present enjoyment, “live, eat, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
It is right to make some plans for the future as several passages in Scripture teach (Luke 14:28; 2 Cor. 12:14; 1 Tim. 5:8; and Prov. 21:5; 27:23-24). But it is wrong to become preoccupied with it and to go to extremes, to think we have to have enough today for the rest of our lives before we can be secure. The child of God knows that tomorrow will take care of itself because it is in the Father’s sovereign hands (Ps. 103:19; 115:3; 112:7).
“Someone has said that the average person is crucifying himself between two thieves: the regrets of yesterday and the worries about tomorrow.”9
Jesus said, “each day has enough trouble of its own.” The point is that worrying about tomorrow robs us of the ability to handle the potentials, blessings, and problems of today. We can’t concentrate on meeting the temptations, trials, opportunities, and struggles of today if we are uptight about tomorrow.
We must each learn to live one day at a time. God promises His grace for tomorrow when tomorrow comes, but He only gives His grace one day at a time. Worrying about tomorrow cannot change tomorrow, but it can ruin today.
In summary, I think there are three keys in this passage for daily living and for a life that is totally yielded to the Lord so we each can become good stewards of the life He has given us: our time, talents, treasures, temple, and truth.
(1) There Is the Principle Of Faith (6:30). We must live by faith. We must trust God and really believe in the reality of His person, promises, and sovereignty.
(2) There Is the Truth of God as Our Father (6:32). With our faith solidly anchored in God’s Word, we must know and count on the fact of God as our loving and kind heavenly Father who knows and cares about out needs.
(3) There Is the Principle of First Things First (6:33). God’s rule and righteousness must be the number one priority of our lives. If it is not, we will waste the stewardship of life that God has given us in the pursuit of the details of life like the unregenerate world around us.
We will have an entrance into heaven if we have trusted Christ as our personal Savior, but it will be an entrance without the abundance of rewards, like a man dashing though the fire.
May we each ask ourselves, where is my treasure and what are my priorities? Am I being a good steward of the manifold grace of God?
There are a lot of needs in the world, the need of abundant giving, the need of workers, people available to teach Sunday School and home Bible classes or lead care groups, and to do dozens of things around our churches and in our cities. Frankly those needs would not exist, or would certainly be cut to a minimum if we were all living according to the truth of Matthew 6:19-34.